Archive for February, 2011

The wrong opportunity

Posted in Engineering, Irregular Features, Rantings, Tunnels with tags , , , , , , on February 27, 2011 by awickerman

You know you said “Yes” to the wrong overtime opportunity when you spend the early hours of Saturday night/Sunday morning huddling in the exhaust fumes of a diesel generator because, though the fumes are unpleasant and it’s noisy, it is at least warm and out of the wind.

A good time was had by almost no-one down that railway tunnel.


A minor design fault

Posted in Engineering, Posts that are far longer than I first intended, Tenuous Link of the Day, Tunnels, Your cut-out-and-keep Guide with tags , , , , , , , , on February 25, 2011 by awickerman

Are you worried your house will fall into the Crossrail tunnels? Are you concerned Crossrail 2 (the Chelsea to Hackney Line) will mean your house has to be destroyed? Terrified that the bits on the end of Crossrail may end up being connected to the rest of the railways through your house?

Well worry no more! The Crossrail safeguarding team will tell you so your vague worries can crystallise into actual terror, all through the medium of a handy web based search.

There is but one minor flaw, as far as I can tell it only shows a result if your property is in or close to the limits, everyone else in Central London gets this message;

“Sorry, we couldn’t find your postcode.”

Which really doesn’t help. Admittedly I believe this message actually means “You are outside the safeguarded routes so will be fine”, but that’s only because I already know where those routes are. A nice idea, let down by someone buggering up the error handling I suspect.

This feature is not available for High Speed 2, mainly because there is no safeguarded route for HS2. There is no safeguarded route because people still haven’t decided quite where it’s going. But worry not, there is a giant pot of money knocking about for the ‘Exceptional hardship‘ of someone possibly building a giant high speed railway nearby. Of course when (if?) anyone finally picks a route, and decides which bunch of home owners in the Chilterns to forever offend, this scheme will close and be replaced by the standard compensation scheme. So hurry now to claim your money, the properly thought out not-exceptional compensation scheme is far less generous.

The Mystery of South Crofty

Posted in Alas the Mystery Remains Holmes, Mining, Posts that are far longer than I first intended, Rantings with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 12, 2011 by awickerman

South Crofty, the mine so good that no-one ever asks difficult questions about whether or not there was ever a North Crofty. Yes it’s back in the news as the PR monkeys there have found another metal they can claim to be mining; Indium. And this time the mine will re-open and employ hundreds ‘within two years’.

But this isn’t the first time that Baseresult (or Western United Mines as they prefer to be called these days) have said they’ll be ‘open soon’. They said the same in 2001 when they brought the place, then again in 2003 they said after but a year’s worth of pumping out water they’d be good, come 2006 it was two and a half years. By 2007 a cunning name change and the involvement of Galena Asset Management (or as it’s also known Trafigura, a company with a… mixed background in such fields as Iraqi oil for food, unconventional Ivory Coast waste management and blowing up bits of Norway) had produced Western United Mines who would be ready in two years by 2009. By the time 2009 rolled around they’d cut that figure to but a mere 12-18 months and found Indium (presumably they subsequently lost it, but have just found it again so they can re-announce it). It was in 2010 when they first discovered the ‘Announce metal find’ wheeze and declared they’d found gold, which again they’d already known about but decided to re-announce as a PR trick.

In amongst all this has been ongoing mysteries over planning, pumping out the flooded mine, quite what happened to all that pumped out water, re-development plans, threats of compulsory purchase, EU ‘Objective One’ funding and the constant tension between the nostalgic locals who’d quite like a tin mine to re-open and all the second home owners who really, really wouldn’t.

About the only think I can say for sure is that it’s worked out well for the two chaps who founded Baseresult; Kevin Williams and David Stone. They were there in 2001 and they’re still there now.

At various points I’ve been convinced it’s a property deal based around re-developing the site into housing under cover of the mine, a cunning scheme to dump hi-risk waste into the old mine workings (not helped by a previous PR stunt  where the mine owners proposed using the site to store fly ash from power stations) or a bunch of deluded Cornishmen pursuing a dream in the face of all logic. Honestly it’s probably been a little of all of that at some point, though what it is now I’ve no idea.

However I will predict this; in two years time it will still be about two years away from full production, the fundamentals are just too unfavourable. Still it gives some old Cornish miners something to do and keeps the BBC website supplied with stories, so it’s not a complete waste of time.

How do you run out of Sand?

Posted in Alas the Mystery Remains Holmes, Engineering, Tunnels with tags , , , , , , on February 10, 2011 by awickerman

In yet another triumph of reporting old news I can now reveal India is running short of sand. This problem has been going on for quite some time, at least as far back as February 2010 in fact, but has only recently come to my attention as it has finally affected something important; tunnels.

Yes part of the latest attempt to provide fresh clean water to Bombay has been held up due to a lack of sand. As to how the question ‘How do you run out of sand’ there doesn’t appear to be a clear answer. It looks like a combination of (presumably) well intentioned environmental legislation and a vicious sand tax. In any event there’s a lot less sand about the place, production is down 95%, and prices are up six fold to 12,000 rupee per brass. (Why they use the word brass instead of 100 cubic feet is a good question. As is the question of why they still use cubic feet. But those are good questions for another time.).

One of the few points everyone agrees on is that there is no physical shortage of sand, it’s just people aren’t allowed to get at it/have to pay too much to get it. Indeed the last attempt to auction off new sand mining sites flopped because the licences were too expensive. I confess to being a little unsure over this entire affair. Certainly you can’t imagine this happening in China, they’d just shoot the judges and environmentalists and then order everyone back to the sand mines. That the Indian courts feel they can bring the entire construction industry to a standstill on environmental reasons is certainly a very ‘Western’ thing to do, I’m just not sure it’s a good thing.

Fun Places to work #2

Posted in Almost Beyond Words, Mining with tags , , , , , on February 7, 2011 by awickerman

In this occasional series based on places I have absolutely no desire work in let us leave the frozen wastes of Russia and instead revel in the frozen wastes of Canada and the wonderful town of Asbestos. For those who have noticed a pattern, well done.

A Canadian town called Asbestos. Next to a giant Asbestos mine. Not a lot more to say is there?

Marvel at the giant hole! Be enchanted by the deep azure blue depths! Hold your breath. Seriously, hold your breath.

This town has much in common with it’s Russian cousin; It is fanatically proud of itself (indeed once had it’s own Corvette the mighty HMCS Asbestos) and is stuffed full of people who will bore you to tears explaining why white Asbestos is safer than the brown or blue flavours (which may be true, I’m sure 300ºC fires are safer than 600 or 800ºC versions, but that’s hardly the point)

But there are differences. First the amusingly mis-guided advert campaign and second the quite spectacular hypocrisy of the government, because Asbestos is illegal to sell or use in Canada but perfectly legal to mine and export to foreign countries. At least the Russians actually use the Asbestos they mine, which may not be better for the locals but is at least less hypocritical.

To end on a cheap joke I commend you all to go to one of the fine restaurants in the town of Asbestos, starting with the Canteen of Asbestos.

Threat of planes flying into the Olympic cable car – Still unlikley

Posted in Alas the Mystery Remains Holmes, Engineering, Irregular Features, Olympic Cable Car, Rantings, Your cut-out-and-keep Guide with tags , , , , , , , , on February 4, 2011 by awickerman

Friends of the Earth have managed to get the BBC to parrot out articles and news items on their latest ill informed panic; Olympic Cable Car at risk from London City Airport.

As a big supporter of the marvellously stupid cable car I was naturally concerned and spent a whole handful of minutes on the interweb. So we amble to the original cable car planning application lodged with Newham council and gather a route picture, then off to London City Airport for the information on the Public Safety Zone (PSZ). Combining these mighty pictures with literally minutes of photoshop gives you;

A map of the cable car route skilfully mixed with the Public Safety Zone

Is it too late to call this a mashup? What's the Web 2.0 Service Pack 1 phrase I should be using?

As you can see the Zone of Death (aka where the cable car route crosses the Public Safety Zone), which is where the cable cars will be ‘at risk from City Airport planes’ is a tiny corner squeezed into the far end. Ohh and also includes the A1011 and the A1020 roads, but strangely they aren’t considered ‘at risk’ despite actually existing? Is it just that people don’t care if road users are killed when planes crash into them? While that may be true for Friends of the Earth I think this section of the Civil Aviation Authority site may be more relevant;

PSZ Reviews

Airport Status
Bournemouth Closed 30 September 2010 – Nil comments received
Newcastle Closed 23 August 2010 – Nil comments received
Bristol Closed 23 August 2010 – Nil comments received
London City Airport Open – closing date for representations has been extended to 14 March 2011 – see London City Airport Notification Document inc map9 and FAQs

So in fact that Public Safety Zone is the proposed expansion and still hasn’t been confirmed? And the current one in fact stops in the middle of the Royal Victoria Dock? And as the cable car has planning permission it’s now treated the same as any other existing development? And the new PSZ is based on traffic forecasts that assume London City Airport gets to increase it’s traffic levels, so in fact the burden is on the CAA and London City Airport to prove that the new traffic levels (and new PSZ) won’t endanger the cable car and not the other way round? Well that’s a relief.

While I can understand why Friends of the Earth would do this, they were the people who fought a judicial review against London City Airports attempts to expand so any mud will do, why is the BBC so lazy? This was 5 minutes work on the internet, that lovely graphic took most of the time, surely BBC journalists can use search engines, so why don’t they?

Never go back. Except when your right

Posted in And thus the Mystery was solved Watson!, Engineering with tags , , , , , , , on February 2, 2011 by awickerman

Those of you with nothing better to remember may recall this post from last September discussing the East London River Crossing (or one of it’s many aliases). My essential conclusion was; the bridge is not going to happen and Boris is talking rubbish. Again.

Well thanks to a belated comment from a chap called ‘N’ (enigmatic in a Bond spoof kind of way) our man on the spot says the land owner claims the bridge is hold, yet trees are being felled allegedly for a park. Does this make my claim more or less true?

Beginning with industry rumour, the report has apparently duly said ‘Yes you could build a bridge cheaply’ (no shock there, you can knock up a decent road bridge east of London for ~£30 million if you make the effort) but the government has said ‘No you can’t expect the rest of the UK to stump up £200 million for a bridge in East London.’

Proof? Well BoJo last words on the subject were from late November and proudly declaimed City Hall were;

“looking at bringing forward a series of river crossings in the next few years, east of London Bridge”

If that’s not a grand statement proving the Gallions Reach Bridge idea is dead I don’t know what is. I am therefore declaring my previous prediction correct and the crossing is not going to happen any time soon.

That said I still expect to see yet another East London River Crossing idea crop up in the next few months, though my cynical side wouldn’t be surprised to see the official announcement delayed till the run up to the Mayoral elections. One day politicians will stop treating infrastructure as a pre-election bribe. And one day pigs will fly.

Still for those of you hungry for a cross Thames crossing in East London – good news! The cable car has got planning permission and almost all the whining killjoys at CABE are being sacked. Truly marvellous days for those of us who would enjoy a ridiculous cable car and hate almost all architects.

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